Law and Morality
What relationship does law have with morality?
A true Law teaches morality to all citizens of the country. Any who indulges in immoral act as against the Law of the nation faces the penalty or penalties that await the immoral act. The Law is a good weapon for fighting immoral activities all over the world.
But note, the word morality means a lot of things to lot of people. What Nigeria sees and not being moral may be seen as moral in the Law of United States of America. This is why morality is defined and explained according to constitution guiding a particular country. For instance, in Nigeria, same sex marriage is considered an immoral act and any cut in such offence will dance the tone of the music made available to him or her by the Constitutional Law. The punishment can take the form of imprisonment. In United States of America, this is no immoral act as considered by the Constitution of the country. But examining same sex marriage critically is really an abnormality and immoral act irrespective of what the Law of any country professes about it.
Besides Law, moral standards are also preconditions for any society. Every society in the world has their own moral rules and standards to be obeyed by the citizens. It is this morality that makes the citizens of various societies to abstain from criminal acts and embraces the right thing to do. Without the preaching and moral empowerment which is categorized among the types of youth empowerment, the universe will be filled with lots and lots of crises.
What is morality? According to Phil Harris, morality is “codes and beliefs, values, principles and standards of behavior, some versions of which are found in all social groups.” According to the author, what is called morality is what is accepted as right way of living life within a particular group. For instance when a married man dies and a biological brother to that man takes the responsibility of the man by marrying the brother’s wife, it is observed as right and moral practice in a particular society. This belief and practice is accepted in traditional Igbo tribe of Nigeria and is seen as being a moral practice. But, in United States or Canada or other countries with different cultural belief, a practice of such nature may be immoral practice.
Another definition of morality is the principles concerning rights and wrong or good and bad behaviour. The definition is in accordance with that given by Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. So when you know that to avoid stealing of your neighbour’s property is right, then it is said that you practice morality. Morality is the ultimate principle and criterion whereby social behaviour is judged (Abiola 2006).
It is because of the need to encourage morality in society that made Lord Devin put down this in the following words:
“Society disintegrates from within more frequently than they are broken up by external pressures. There is disintegration when no common morality is observed and history shows that loosening of moral bonds is often the first stage of disintegration, so that the society is justified in taking the same steps to preserve its moral code as it does to preserve its government…The suppression of vice is as much Law’s business as the suppression of subversive activities.”
In accordance to the belief of Lord Devin, when there is brokenness in the moral bonds of any society, there is possibility of social vices taking place in such society. United States is gradually decaying in moral standard. The moral decline in United States of America is one of the major causes of challenges in the country. Until United States stop loosening of their moral bonds, the country will not make much impact in solving and preventing social issues.
Individual Liberty versus Morality
There has been misunderstanding between the two words “Liberty” and “Morality”. Some people argued that liberty is independent on morality. They went on to say that everybody have his life to live whether people are trying to institute morality or not.
Liberty according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is defined as the state of being free from oppression or imprisonment. On the other hand, as defined before, morality is the “codes and beliefs, values, principles and standards of behaviour, some versions of which are found in all social groups. These two words have been hard to be properly interpreted by Law making body of many countries for years now.
The new institution of same sex marriage in United States of America today is as a result of the conclusion made by the governing body of the country. The conclusion to the argument had it that two of the same gender who wants to live together as husband and wife though of the same gender is their own choice and they are allowed to do so. According to the Law, preventing same sex marriage among Americans is depriving them from their individual liberty and this finally led to its approval in the country.
Inevitably, there is a clash between the advocates of personal liberty and vanguards of protection of public morality, especially on what has been called “crimes without victims.” Such crimes include drug addition, same gender marriages, abortion and others. The Law of certain countries has given freedom to women that cannot mother a child to go on with abortion if they do not and cannot mother the baby. In the argument, when the baby has not fully been formed, it is seen as blood and doctors are permitted to flush out the blood if they want to do so. But this is seriously disapproved by Laws of other countries as that which is called just blood is what transforms to baby. The Law that agrees and prevents abortion has it that all men are formed from the so called blood. So, flushing out of the blood is simply termination of human life.
What was considered immoral act years back in future could be seen as moral or neutral act that does not deserve any penalty of any kind. This is seen on what went on between Shaw and Director of Public Prosecutions. Shaw in the year 1962 published a book entitled “The Ladies”. In that booklet, he promoted and advertised prostitutes. The books was seen as one that can cause moral decay in the country and he was charged to court for attempting to cause harm to morality.
In the court, he was charged with the offence of “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”. Shaw was convicted by the Trial Court and unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction to the court of Appeal and finally to the House of Lords. After that incidence and the related ones, the last time that anyone was prosecuted for such offence was in the eighteen century.
Law has influence in morality. Discussed under this topic is Law and morality. The relationship between Law and morality is detailed out added to what people think are moral but enemies of moral practice. The description of morality and freedom where also given. Under the subheading the author explained that Law does not prevent any person from being free rather it constrains one from any freedom that may be harmful to the society. In summary, what may be considered as good moral in one country can be viewed as not in another.
- Abiola Sanni (2006). “Introduction to Nigeria Legal Method”. Obafemi Awolowo University Press Limited, Nigeria.
- Lord Devlin (1959). “The Enforcement of Morals”. Oxford University Press.
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Eleventh Edition.